Windows 10 is here: Cortana, free upgrades and features, 11 things you need to know in SA

So Windows 10 released worldwide at six o’clock this morning local time, and if you signed up for the early access Insider Program over the last year or so you should have the option to install the full version of the operating system on your PC right now.

Others will have to wait thanks to a staggered release designed to ease pressure on the internet – those who preordered by clicking on the upgrade icon in their taskbar should be able to download Windows 10 later today, while anyone else may have to wait a few days depending on how well the initial upgrade process goes.

It’s free, as in costs nothing

So long as you’ve got a legitimate copy of Windows 7 or Windows 8 on your PC (or own a licence key) you’ll be able to upgrade to the latest version of Windows for free. It’s a first for Microsoft, and since copies of Windows 10 Pro are likely to be as much as R3 000 at retail a huge saving. Get it quick though – if you wait more than a year to upgrade you’ll have to pay full price.

Some stores will download and install it for free too

Many retailers have signed up for a Microsoft-sponsored program that mimics the Apple iStore model: if bandwidth is a problem at home you can go into a branch of Incredible Connection – for example – and a technician will do the update there. If it’s a relatively new laptop that you purchased from the same store group, the update will be free. If it’s a different machine that qualifies for a free upgrade there will be a nominal charge for the service.

The download will be 3GB

It’s worth taking the retailers up on the offer. The download for Windows 10 is 3GB hugr, which is a big dent in your cap.

If you have an early version of Win 10, you can still upgrade

Unlike older versions of Windows, there’s no penalty for having taken part in the beta testing program. If you’ve been running a build of Windows 10 already, you don’t have to uninstall it to get the full version.

It looks like a cross between Windows 7 and 8

The biggest change to Windows 10 (superficially, at least) is that it behaves more like Windows 7 than 8. It has a desktop mode which is now capable of running Modern UI apps as well as traditional desktop apps. The full Windows 8 look is still there, but reserved for a tablet mode with full screen interface for touch screen apps.

This easy switching is being called “Continuum” in MSpeak. The official line is that although Windows 8’s original interface caused a painful loss of faith among users, it was necessary to “introduce touch as a first class citizen” and the lightweight Modern UI apps as ready for production.

The Start menu is now a blend of both worlds, with a list of programs on the left and Metro-style Live tiles on the right. It looks rather good, and the text search is quite clever too. You can search the web from the Start menu or open recent documents by right clicking on apps. Modern UI apps run on the desktop in windowed mode, or full screen in touch mode.

It’s really fast

There’s no messing around with the interface. All the desktop animations have been accelerated and Alt-Tabbing is particularly swift.

Yes you can Cortana after all.

Cortana is available in South Africa, really

Microsoft’s rival to Google Now or Siri, Cortana, is a capable of understanding natural voice commands for searching the web and making appointments etc. The trouble is, it’s only available in the US and UK at launch – or is it? Getting access to Cortana is as simple as changing your regional settings to one of those countries – there’s no real lock out.

Living on the…

Internet Explorer still exists

Much fuss has been made about Edge, Microsoft’s new touch-optimised browser which has loads of features borrowed from third-party apps buit-in, that makes it more usable on a tablet. Edge has a reading mode, for stripping out superfluous ads and turning web pages in to Flipboard style layouts, and a “save it for later” feature that’s a lot like Pocket. Don’t worry if you miss the old Internet Explorer though – it’s still there as a fallback. And if you don’t miss it, the good news is that Edge does support plug-ins and extensions, which are written in HTML (like Google’s Chrome browser). So it probably won’t be long before Edge is as fully featured as IE any way.

Action Centre, not the red flag of old.

There are new core apps for mail and calendar

All of the core apps have been given a new look which makes them appear much like the versions found on recent Windows Phones. There’s also a new notification centre which takes its inspiration from mobile design too – it takes the place of the Charms bar on the right which confused Windows 8 users.

You can’t run it on a Raspberry Pi

Well, you sort of can. There’s a free version of Windows for low cost computers like Raspberry Pi, but don’t expect to be using it as a cheap desktop. The Internet of Things (IOT) edition of Windows 10 is strictly for installing remote apps which can be controlled from a Windows desktop or server. The theory is that it will make designing IOT apps much easier, and encourage makers to switch to Windows too.

And your bonus prize…

Point 11 is really important, but its significance is likely to be overlooked. Unlike Windows 8, which almost had to be downloaded as an upgrade from within an existing version of Windows, the disc image for Windows 10 will be easy to download and burn to a DVD or USB key. So you can download once and upgrade all your PCs and laptops at home without eating all your bandwidth. Hurrah for internet constrained South Africans!

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